HTC Desire Eye review: The selfie lover’s dream phone

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There is no question that we live in a self-indulged generation that is in love with capturing pictures of themselves and sharing them online. We have seen a number of manufacturers try to capitalize on that trend this year, but HTC’s Desire Eye might be the best attempt. By offering a 13 megapixel front-facing camera with dual LED flash, it has to be a selfie lover’s dream. It’s not all about selfies however. Even the most narcissistic person has to do something else with their phone at some point right? In other words, is the Desire Eye good for only one thing or is it that perfect all around phone that selfie lovers have been craving?

Design

The Desire series is generally earmarked for low to mid-range devices, so you can’t expect flagship materials such as metal. However, even before HTC was using metal, they always had great quality with their plastics. The One X from 2012 was one of the finest devices at its time, and there was no metal on it. The Desire Eye reminds me a lot of that phone. It’s all plastic, but it fees very solid and far from cheap. I know that’s a cliche, but it’s true.

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By adding a two tone look with the sides being red or blue, it adds a fashionable look to it. Ever since the One X, HTC has been making phones that cause people to say, “What phone is that?” The Desire Eye doesn’t scream Rolex like the One (M7) and One (M8) do, but it’s bold and has a classy look.

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BoomSound also gets a change in that the speakers are finally lower profile and don’t take up as much space. The speakers are barely noticeable, sitting at the top and bottom of the display. Because of this, the lower bezel is much smaller than the One (M8), but unfortunately that didn’t translate into the top bezel, which is actually larger than the One (M8). I presume it has to do with the higher quality camera and LED dual flash.

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Another nice touch is the dedicated shutter button for the camera. You can still use the on screen display, but the shutter button does give you the feeling you are using a real point and shoot.

My only complaint is the phone is a little slippery, which is a big pet peeve of mine. It’s not so overly slippery that I couldn’t live with it, but it’s noticeable. Also slightly different is the placement of the power button. They chose to place it on the side, as opposed to the top on their One (M7) and One (M8) flagships. Not a big deal, but it’s below the volume rocker, which generally isn’t the norm. I find myself tapping on the volume button a lot when trying to turn it on. However, you can always double knock the display to wake the phone, but I just can’t get into the habit of doing that.

Hardware

The Desire Eye features a 5.2-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) IPS LCD display at 424 ppi, a 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, Adreno 330 GPU, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of internal storage, microSD slot for an extra 128 GB of additional storage, 13 MP BSI rear camera with aperture of f/2.0, 28 mm lens, and dual LED flash, 13 MP front-facing camera with aperture of f/2.2, 22 mm lens and dual LED flash, BoomSound stereo speakers, IPX7 certified (dust proof and water resistant up to 1 meter and 30 minutes), nano SIM, and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n dual band.

Radios

2G Network: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 – all versions

3G Network HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 – Asia, HSDPA 850 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 – AT&T, HSDPA 850 / 900 / 2100 – EMEA, TD-SCDMA 1900 / 2100 – Asia

4G Network LTE 700 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600 (Bands 1, 3, 7, 8, 28), TD-LTE 1900 / 2300 / 2500 / 2600 (Bands 38, 39, 40, 41), LTE 700 / 850 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100, (Bands 2, 4, 5, 17, 29) – AT&T, LTE 800 / 900 / 1800 / 2600, (Bands 3, 7, 8, 20) – EMEA

Performance

It’s hard to believe that packing a Snapdragon 801 and 2 GB of RAM is considered mid-range these days, but the Desire Eye doesn’t feel mid-range. It’s pretty smooth out of the box and if the upcoming Lollipop update is everything it’s cracked up to be, this is more than enough phone for most people.

The display sports the same 1080p resolution as the One (M8), but it’s also a little bigger, 5.2-inches vs 5-inches. However, it doesn’t appear that it’s using the same Super LCD 3 display found on the One (M8). An obvious move to keep costs down. I found it to be adequate with decent colors and viewing angles.

As I mentioned earlier, the BoomSound speakers are barely noticeable. So much that I remember people at the launch event saying, “No BoomSound?” You may not realize they are there by looking at the device, but trust me, you will when you your start playing music or a video. In case you’re aren’t familiar with BoomSound, it’s HTC’s marketing term for their front-facing stereo speakers. HTC was ahead of the curve when they added them a couple of years ago, and we love this newer lower profile implementation. The sound is simply stunning.

Battery

Although a bigger phone, the Desire Eye’s battery is a little smaller than the One (M8)’s, 2400 mAh vs 2600 mAh. Powering a larger display could make a dramatic difference, but my results didn’t show that. In my video rundown test in which I loop continuous video while the display is set to 2/3’s brightness and the phone is connected to 4G LTE, I was able to get 10 hours and 54 minutes. The One (M8) yielded 11 hours and 40 minutes in the same exact test. So as you can see, it’s not that far off. Now you won’t be running video all the time, so how about a typical day? With moderate use, you should have no problem getting through the entire day without having to charge it. If you’re a heavy user, you might find it a little more difficult.

Software

The majority of the software is the same as what is on the One (M8) so I won’t go into too much detail. What you essentially have is Sense 6 on top of Android 4.4. Sense is probably my favorite version of the Android skins, but it’s still far from stock Android.

What is different is the Eye Experience software, which is now available on all One (M8) devices and coming to the One (M7). That means the Desire Eye doesn’t offer anything unique in terms of software when compared to the One (M8). If anything, it’s lacking in that it doesn’t offer Zoe, well at least the original version of Zoe that debuted on the One (M7). Zoe always referred to the ability to capture up to 20 burst images and video at the same time, but now Zoe just refers to Video Highlights, which takes all your pictures and videos and puts them together into a short movie. It’s just another example of HTC confusing consumers here. I’m not sure if the original Zoe will still exist in the future, but the Desire Eye cannot capture 20 images and a few seconds of video at the same time like the One (M7) and One (M8) can. Since the Eye has the same processor as the One (M8), it’s obviously more than capable of handling it, so I am thinking they might be dropping the feature since they didn’t include it here.

The Eye Experience does offer a few cool things like the ability to make a Photo Booth collage with your selfies, but unfortunately it’s not available to the rear camera. There’s also the ability to share your screen during Skype or Hangouts video calls. It even tracks your face. The rest of the Eye Experience seems more gimmicky than anything else. For example, you can now capture audio and video utilizing both the front and rear camera, but Samsung has been offering that for a couple of years now. The fact that the Desire Eye front-facer is 13 MP makes it a little better since both lenses can grab 1080p video, but still. Crop Me in is interesting in that you can grab a live image of yourself from the front camera and place it anywhere on the background that the rear camera is shooting. Basically, adding a nice background scene. For whatever reason, HTC hasn’t rolled this feature out yet so I couldn’t test it. If you can add it to existing photos, it makes sense. If not, why not just turn around and take a selfie? Face Fusion is the ability to “fuse” two faces together. I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that. Supposedly it will help couples figure out what their child will look like. Seriously? Leave that stuff to third party apps if people want them.

Camera

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Now we get to heart of the Desire Eye. The camera, or shall I say cameras? It seems as through HTC has abandoned UltraPixel since it never proved to offer all that much of an improvement while sacrificing megapixels. The rear camera sports a 13 megapixel BSI sensor with a 28 mm lens and an aperture of f/2.0. The front facer also sports a 13 megapixel BSI sensor, but it gets a 22 mm lens along with an aperture of f/2.2. Both lenses are wide angle and can record at 1080p. Unfortunately HTC chose not to include optical image stabilization (OIS), which is a big red flag.

The actual camera software is just like the One (M8) in that it’s straightforward for the average user that just wants to point and shoot, but it also offers a tremendous amount of customization with the settings. You can also save these settings, making it easier to revert back to them at anytime. The only feature that the Desire Eye is lacking is the Zoe Camera feature, which I already mentioned in the software section.

As far as the quality of photos goes, the Desire Eye performs well in bright light and in action shots, but the lack of optical image stabilization shows in lower light situations. The results are actually quite similar to the DROID Turbo in that color representation on the photos is pretty good, but there is too much noise. The front facer suffers the same issues, but those who take selfies often will love the fact that they can be captured with higher resolution. It’s pretty remarkable when you think that the Desire Eye front-facing camera can capture more megapixels than the One (M8) rear camera. All in all, I think moving away from UltraPixel was the right decision, but not including optical image stabilization alienates those that regard camera quality high on their list. On one hand, HTC offers two very nice cameras with dual LED flash, but then strips it with an important feature in OIS. It doesn’t make sense to me, but I am not the manufacturer.

Here are some examples from both the front facer and rear facer in a variety of situations.

Selfie – Outdoors

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Selfie – Low Light

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Outdoors

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Action

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Low Light

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Closing

The Desire Eye offers a really nice design and something you won’t find on other smartphones, a 13 MP front-facing camera with dual LED flash. The rest of the device offers nothing more than most other smartphones. If selfies are your thing, you probably won’t find a better phone, but I guess you have to ask yourself if you really need the pixels? I happened to take a family selfie on my vacation with the One  (M8) that came out beautiful. I never wished it had more megapixels. Since selfies are more than likely going to be closeup shots, you generally don’t need the extra megapixels to crop. However, I will say that the Desire Eye has inspired my selfie creativity, which I am not sure is a good thing. Plus, it does offer dual LED flash for those that like to use it.

The bottom line is that the Desire Eye is a solid phone for $149. It’s obviously not the best phone on the market, but it’s not trying to be. Yes it caters to the selfie-centric crowd, but you don’t need to be in that crowd to enjoy the benefits.


About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.


  • lean6

    I never understood why the front-facing cameras didn’t have flash all along…or why any camera didn’t have flash. Samsung finally put one in their Tab Pro series, and I thought “no-brainer.”

  • Eddy

    Although its flash-equipped front camera is eye-catching, its image results aren’t as impressive as I’d hoped. Still, the flash will illuminate your face where other phones can’t, and the Desire Eye comes with fun software, is well-specced and waterproof too.